Barriers to Employment: Criminal Records

One in five potential employees in the Baltimore region have difficulty finding jobs due to their criminal record, according to the recent report, Barriers to Employment Opportunities in the Baltimore Region, that was published by the Opportunity Collaborative.  Even though the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently prohibited flat-out discrimination, such as a company no-hire policy, the report found that some employers will search online for an applicant’s criminal history and potentially disqualify applicants with search results that “look like trouble,” among other potentially unfair scenarios.

In some situations, new government security requirements for security, healthcare, and transportation programs have led employers associated with those areas to require criminal background screenings or security clearances. Other companies may not hire someone with a criminal background for fear of negligent-hiring lawsuits, where an employer could be held liable for errors committed by an employee.

Not all jobs have those requirements, though, and this has led some employers to buck the trend.  They look at factors such as the type of conviction, when it occurred, and the individual’s history since the incident.  The report singled out Johns Hopkins as an employer with a “long-established program” to hire those who have served time in prison.

The report also notes results from several surveys that show employers nationwide are much more likely to hire white applicants than black persons.  It found that 34 percent of whites without criminal records are called back for interviews but only 17 percent of blacks without criminal records get that important call back.  For applicants with criminal records, the percentage of callbacks drop to 17 and 5 percent respectively.

Another factor brought out by the “Barriers to Employment” report is the frequency of marijuana arrests of black residents compared to whites, even though both races use marijuana at approximately the same rate.  A recent report from the ACLU found that Maryland had a 15 to 1 increase in black arrests (5,614) compared to white arrests (371).  In Baltimore City alone, there were 11,360 arrests in 2010, which ranked among the highest rates in the country, and the highest in the state.  A black person is 5.5 times more likely to be arrested on the charge of marijuana possession in Baltimore City.  92 percent of all city marijuana arrests are black persons, and all but 2 percent of youth arrests are black.

This is why workforce development programs will often assist their clients in removing non-convictions from their record, or creating strategies to deal with permanent marks on their record.  Additionally, the Enoch Pratt Free Library hosts a monthly Expungement Workshop:

Last Saturday of every month
10 am-Noon
1531 W. North Avenue
Baltimore, MD 21217

These challenges are some of the reasons the City of Baltimore followed other large cities by recently passing a law making it illegal to ask a potential employee about her or his criminal record or run a background check until after a job has been offered.  Promoters of the bill believe it will help reduce the number of unemployed workers in Baltimore.  That number was estimated at more than 20,000 a few months ago with the rate “astronomically high” in certain neighborhoods.  Council member Nick Mosby, who sponsored the bill, believes it will create a “level playing field” by requiring employers to “judge an applicant’s credentials and job experience” instead of their past record.

Other advocates in Baltimore are also finding solutions for would-be employees who have mistakes in their past.  The Job Opportunities Task Force recently published a report on Advocating for the Successful Reentry of Individuals with Criminal Records and PastForward Maryland is a group of organizations that work together to help ex-offenders find permanent employment opportunities.  Additionally, many advocates have been working at the state level to pass legislation, called the Second Chance Act. It would allow those convicted of certain misdemeanors, including possession of a controlled substance, to have their convictions protected from public view, such as a background check, once they have served their time and not committed any more crimes for several years after exiting the justice system.

These are just some of the options that could help potential workers with criminal records in Baltimore.  The laws are changing slowly, but it may take longer to change attitudes around the city.  The question Baltimore needs to collectively ask itself is whether a person should be punished over and over again for a mistake in the past, for which they have already served their time.

force employers to judge an applicant’s credentials and job experience, rather than their criminal past – See more at:



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Kevin Gadsey

Kevin Gadsey is pursuing a Master's Degree in Public Advocacy and Activism from the National University of Ireland, Galway. Prior to this adventure, Kevin worked as a Disability Advocate in Alaska for nine years, and served as Secretary and Vice-Chair of the governor-appointed Alaska Statewide Independent Living Council. His efforts created several grassroots initiatives that led to changes and more funding for public transportation and community accessibility at the state and local level. As a member of the ADA Trainers Network, Kevin will bring knowledge of disability-related issues and citizen-created advocacy strategies to the CPHA team during the month of June.

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